The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 28, 2014

Thomas eyes title belt at Toughman

By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer

— Bobby Thomas Jr, is a man of few words. He prefers to do his talking in the ring.

But when asked what he expects in tonight’s fight with Eric Watkins, he stopped and thought about it.

“What’s it going to take to win?” Thomas asked. “I want a knockout. A good knockout. Not a stoppage. I want a good, clean knockout.”

Thomas and Watkins meet tonight in a professional bout as part of the 35th annual Original Toughman Contest at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center. The winner will take home both the WBF North American and West Virginia Cruiserweight championships.

The prospect of walking out of the Convention Center with two belts is just an added bonus for the Oak Hill native, who formerly held the West Virginia Cruiserweight championship, but was stripped of the title in a controversial fashion.

Thomas insists the controversy behind him being stripped — he feels he actually gave up the title — isn’t on his mind going into tonight’s battle between the two pugilists.

“I still should have it, but there were some issues,” Thomas said. “It is what it is. I’ll have it back (tonight).”

It’s been quite a few months for Thomas (13-2-1), who suffered only his second defeat of his career in October, a TKO in the second round at the hand of Al Sands at Black Bear Casino in Carlton, Minn.

“The loss set me back. I believe I could’ve won that fight,” Thomas said. “But my ribs — it’s hard to fight when your ribs hurt. It was kind of an old injury. I’m not looking back. I’m not looking at that loss. I got me a win (against Donnie Crawford) last month. The fight here is a big fight.”

It’s a completely new attitude for the former champion, who recently switched trainers to Tim Wheeler and has hired Matt Morris of Elite Sports as his strength and conditioning coach.  Morris, a former Woodrow Wilson and Marshall football standout, is son of former pro fighter Scott Morris and has previously trained professional athletes in the NBA and NFL.

“Tim Wheeler is a great guy and a great trainer,” Thomas said. “He drives five hours three days a week to work with me. Then I’ve got Steve Angus who works with me every day. He pushes me constantly.”

The fight with Watkins wasn’t the one for which Thomas was originally training. Watkins was a late add when Warren Browning was scratched due to illness. However, Browning (18-3) will be at ringside, along with other potential opponents for Thomas in Beckley native Keith Barr (12-5), Jason Pettiway (14-1), Joe Paintiss (9-2) and Dustin Eckert (10-0).

Thomas says that seeing his future opponents around the ring won’t be on his mind once he steps through the ropes.

“It’s not a distraction,” Thomas said. “Three of them, I’ve already fought and beat. I don’t know, I’m not a cocky guy. I’m humble. I’m laid back. I don’t go around talking trash. These guys don’t bother me. I don’t care. They’re all going to get their chance again. I’m going to give them another shot.”

Instead, Thomas looks at it as a bright future for the sweet science in the state of West Virginia. Boxing has a rich history in the Mountain State, but has seen its popularity decline. Thomas hopes that he and his peers will lead a renascence of one of the world’s oldest sports.

“Boxing used to be big around here, but it died,” Thomas said. “I’m hoping it comes back to where you can do some all pro fights — big fights. Hell, maybe even get a world title fight here.”

The World Title is something on which Thomas has his eyes. Thomas is currently rated as one of the top cruiserweights in the United States.

“Like I said, we’re right in the mix,” Thomas said. “After this fight, it’s right back in the gym. We’ve got some big things coming up. Hopefully a World Title shot is coming soon — real soon.”

Tickets for tonight’s championship Saturday at the Toughman are on sale now at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.  The bouts will begin at 7 p.m., with the pro fight featured later in the evening.

— E-mail: jrollins and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.